In Law & Order: Dead on the Money, an investment broker is strangled while she is out on her morning jog. Was it just a random robbery gone bad, or did the victim’s former lover, or perhaps a dissatisfied client, do the deed? As you play through the game you’ll learn that the broker had many enemies, not to mention ties to the mob, and so you’ll need to team up with the crew from the Law & Order television series to figure out who committed the crime, and then put that person behind bars.
Dead on the Money stays pretty true to the Law & Order television series. That means in the first half of the game you partner up with Detective Lennie Briscoe to look for clues, interview witnesses, and send off evidence to be analyzed. Then, in the second half, you help Assistant D.A. Serena Southerlyn build a case and hopefully put the culprit behind bars. Developer Legacy Interactive did such a nice job with the look and feel of the game (including voice talent from some of the show’s actors), that playing it is sort of like watching an extended episode of the show, minus the commercials.
However, Dead on the Money isn’t really an adventure. You do some adventure-like things in the game, like picking up inventory objects and talking to people, but I think I’m being generous when I say there are three puzzles to solve -- and one of them involves putting together a ripped-up business card, which takes about 10 seconds. Instead, Dead on the Money is more about participating in the television show. So you get to pan around crime scenes to find clues, but then you send off the clues to somebody else to have them analyzed. And you get to interrogate witnesses, but that just involves repeatedly picking the “best” out of three potential questions.
So Dead on the Money is a fairly straightforward game where you just have to pay attention and be thorough. If it had even a halfway decent interface, it would probably be fun to play. But it doesn’t, and so it usually isn’t.
Yes, Legacy Interactive seriously botched the interface. Consider your case file, as an example. Instead of containing all the evidence you’ve collected, you’re simply given 52 evidence “slots.” If you find a witness, the witness takes a slot. If you run a background check or tail the witness, anything relevant from those activities require slots, too. And if you find an object at the scene of the crime? It takes a slot. If you analyze that object? It takes a slot. In other words, 52 slots isn’t nearly enough.
Worse, once your case file fills up, the only way to remove a piece of evidence from it is to throw the evidence away, which deletes the evidence from the game! And so of course there are objects that don’t look important when you first find them but then turn out to be relevant later. Twice I had to go back to a much earlier save to retrieve objects I’d thrown away, and so I ended up playing large chunks of the game twice, which was annoying. (You know you’re in trouble when you keep wondering if it’s ok to throw away the autopsy report, because you could use its slot for something else.)
Dead on the Money also has a pacing problem. When you submit an object to be analyzed (or a witness to be checked out), it seems to take 15 (real) minutes to finish. That’s fine early in the game when you have a lot of places to go and people to talk to, but later there are several situations where you have to sit around and twiddle your thumbs and wait for results to appear. That’s boring, especially if you’re playing the game a second time because of the crummy case file interface.
So, overall, I wasn’t really enthusiastic about Law & Order: Dead on the Money. I liked the concept of the game, and it was sort of fun to play a lawyer for a while, but the pacing and interface really got on my nerves. The C.S.I. game handled the same sorts of things much better. But if you’re a fan of the series, or if you’re just looking for something slow-paced and different to play, then Dead on the Money might be worth a spin.